Shin Megami Tensei IV (Nintendo 3DS) Second Opinion Review

By Rudy Lavaux 28.01.2015

Review for Shin Megami Tensei IV on Nintendo 3DS

The late 1990s and early 2000s saw a surge in popularity in the West of the Japanese RPG genre. Many attribute this sudden increase in interest to the success of Final Fantasy VII, not only the first episode in its series to land in Europe, but the one that truly helped make the series into a smash hit with pretty much every subsequent release outside of Japan, where it had only found moderate success before. Like that series, many others had remained mostly secluded on their home turf until that period when many companies, wanting to cash-in on the sudden success of Square's title, started en masse localising the newest instalments, and in some cases remakes, of their own franchises. Dragon Quest came back to the West after a long hiatus with Dragon Warrior VII, for example (albeit only in the US).

As for Atlus, it hadn't released any Megami Tensei title until the first Persona on PlayStation in North America in 1997, and the Virtual Boy spin-off, Jack Bros., in 1995 (although that wasn't a proper RPG). Europe had to wait even longer until Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne on PlayStation 2, the third game in the Shin Megami Tensei sub-series, which dropped the numbering altogether in the West. Back in 2014, North America and Europe got their own, properly numbered, localisation of the latest numbered entry in what can be considered Atlus' flagship series. After looking at the US release, Cubed3 now dives in again for the European release (only on eShop here) in this C3-2-1 review: Cubed3, 2 reviewers, 1 game.

The people of the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado are divided into two social classes: the Casualries, a class of humble peasants, often lacking proper manners and education, and the Luxurors, the noble, living in the upper levels of the Mikado Castle town. Every year, a ceremony takes place at the castle that decides who are destined to become samurai, defenders of the Kingdom, and protectors of the populace. In this ceremony, a strange gauntlet is placed upon the candidates' wrist and the gauntlets choose whether the bearer is destined to be a samurai or not. Just as the story opens, the protagonist Flynn and his best childhood friend, Issachar, are all excited because their turn has come to try on the gauntlets at the rite. However, only Flynn ends up being chosen, and becomes a samurai in training. Fighting demons in the Naraku, an underground place where said creatures dwell, is one of the primary tasks for the samurai. Therefore, soon enough, Flynn and his newly found brothers in arms, Walter, Isabeau and Jonathan, are sent into the Naraku to start training up for fighting against demons.

However, demons are pretty strong and Flynn being forced to battle alone won't last long, so he soon learns about demon recruiting. That's right, all enemies in a Shin Megami Tensei game are potentially recruitable, bar bosses (at least at first), by talking and negotiating with them and, even further into the game, some might even offer to join Flynn of their own accord to avoid being killed in battle, or will give up items or money to escape certain death. It's not so far off from Pokémon in concept, actually, as demons then get digitised and stored inside the gauntlet and summoned to battle when one is initiated. Demons normally won't join so easily, though, and will display playful or even devilishly awful traits of character when talking to them to try and persuade them to tag along, and the seemingly random nature of their reactions to dialogue options can be frustrating at times as the player will give up an entire turn of action for his or her party in battle to try and persuade them to join. Building an initial party of demons will, therefore, prove challenging, as some groups of up to three or four demons might attack Flynn having lost a turn of action, and finish him off in one turn in the early minutes of the game when training in the Naraku.

Screenshot for Shin Megami Tensei IV on Nintendo 3DS

Shin Megami Tensei IV does indeed turn out to be difficult to get into at first as anyone new to the series will likely be met with multiple Game Overs, being sent to the land of the dead. There, Flynn can choose to be sent back to the land of the living in exchange for money to the ferryman who transports the souls of the dead across to the place of their eternal rest. Refusing to pay results in a true Game Over where gamers are simply sent back to the title screen and left to reload the last save, meaning that saving frequently - pretty much after every won battle for the first few hours - will be imperative to finally get into the game. Repeated Game Overs will prompt a message that the level of difficulty may be lowered to make getting into the adventure easier, but the most die-hard players will likely just push harder and should soon manage to build a decent initial team of demons and, from there on, as Flynn doesn't have to be the only target of attacks by the groups of enemy demons, things get more palatable. However, another roadblock will likely stop those new to the game in their tracks, and that is the peculiar set of rules surrounding battles.

The battle system, although purely turn-based in the strictest sense of the term, comes with an uncanny system called "Press-Turn" in which during every turn, the player is awarded a given number of actions that can be performed, equal to the number of units in the party (basically Flynn plus up to three demons). The Press-Turn system will deduce possible actions or award some based on how the battle flows, leaving more chances to deal damage to the enemy before they can hit the party, or losing chances for the party to attack or heal, for example. This works based on the elements of the attacks, as well as misses and critical hits. Hitting an enemy's weakness elemental-wise, or performing a critical hit, will award turns, while missing an attack or hitting an enemy's strong point elemental-wise will lead to losing turns. The same rules apply to enemy actions. Therefore, everything must be done to ensure enemies' weak points as struck as much as possible, or even to force the enemy to miss its own attacks to reduce its opportunities to inflict damage.

Screenshot for Shin Megami Tensei IV on Nintendo 3DS

This can be done by using de-buff spells that lower accuracy or increase the party's own evasion rate (and so on), giving a dynamic to battles, and inducing a sense of strategy in how to build a party of demons and personal sets of spells.

Indeed, building a versatile party capable of coming out on top in most situations, hitting weak spots pretty much every time, and avoiding taking hits, will require some thinking as, in this game, simply levelling up the party won't work in making battles easier, and will even prove difficult due to the sometimes large amounts of experience required to do so, at least for Flynn. Most demons come with spells that match their own element, and will even teach their spells to Flynn, once they have been trained enough, or to be more exact, once they have learned all of the spells that they can learn through a "demon-whisper" session that can only occur once per demon. Every time a demon whispers some of its spells to Flynn, if it has in its spell set one that Flynn already knows, that spell will level up (up to eight times) and become more effective. Its MP cost may even be lowered, so trying to get as many demons as possible to whisper to Flynn is a good idea to become stronger. Since demons can only do so once, though, there are only a few possibilities in order to do so. Either recruit the same demons over and over... or make use of demon-fusion.

Indeed, demons can be fused together to produce completely different ones! The resulting demons may then inherit a set of spells from their parents, picked by the player, and training the offspring up to the point of demon whisper will naturally cause the demon to whisper again some spells that its parents already whispered. Also, the offspring often come with their own new spells, too, some of which may even be more powerful than any of those already accessible through recruitment up to that point in the story. Trying out different combinations, training and fusing, discovering new types of demons and what culture they originate from through their descriptions, appreciating the awesome designs, and so on, proves to be incredibly addictive! It's interesting to note, too, that, in some more rare occurrences, demons may also evolve naturally into another completely different one by levelling up, and the resulting demon may again also whisper some spells to Flynn.

Screenshot for Shin Megami Tensei IV on Nintendo 3DS

All this incredible addictiveness is helped by the overall atmosphere of the game, accompanied by some fantastic music and an overall very oppressive mood. The early hours of the game, however, do not make for the most interesting hours, though, as in order to heal completely, gamers must keep tracking back to the entrance of the Naraku on foot, and this can become a pain pretty quickly. Luckily, as the story progresses, and the player finally discovers an underground Tokyo city, lying under the feet of the people of the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado, things get a lot more interesting as the dungeon parts start looking much cooler than the damp and dull corridors of the Naraku with its repeating textures. It's interesting to note, too, that the game does come with a wide variety of presentation styles. In the early moments of the game, the only parts that are not completely menu driven are those spent inside Naraku, travelling on foot in third-person 3D environments that look delightfully impressive on the original 3DS hardware, looking very close to what would be expected from games of the PlayStation 2 and GameCube era, if not even better in some regards.

Tokyo, on the other hand, offers an overhead view 3D map where the character is a simple icon travelling around. All those changes in perspective do work well on paper, and help speeding up the process of coming back to the starting point and healing before heading into the dungeon parts again... but they do distract from the overall atmosphere as the third-person 3D parts are definitely the most attractive and immersive ones, all the more so since they are so incredibly well done and show very high production values. Therefore, while it all works well and can't be faulted so much, wishing that the whole game was fully realised in 3D like the dungeon parts cannot be helped, especially since some town areas of Tokyo are indeed rendered in 3D and roamed by NPCs in a more traditional RPG fashion. The story also is very interesting throughout; tense, creepy, moody, with the right amount of humour used here and there. The Persona series, a spin-off of Shin Megami Tensei in essence, is perhaps better known in the West. Well, consider that Persona is set in a simply much less darker universe than this one.

Screenshot for Shin Megami Tensei IV on Nintendo 3DS

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Here is an incredibly well-presented RPG, with very high production values and one of the most addictive takes on the traditional turn-based battle system that has been seen so far, thanks to the excellent Press-Turn system. It looks and sounds awesome, although having everything presented in the third-person view style would have been even more awesome. The characters are very loveable for the most part, the story is interesting, even if sometimes it may lose its focus a bit too much as the player gets flooded in side-quests and loses track of what was supposed to be done. For all of its great qualities, while everything works incredibly well after a few hours spent playing it and understanding all the ins and outs of the Press-Turn system, it's definitely a challenging game that will not be easy to get into for people used to more traditional RPGs where levelling up is usually enough help to plough through the entire story. Shin Megami Tensei IV is an incredible game that isn't without its tiny, itchy problems, but which once swallowed for good, turns out to be one of the absolute best RPG experiences on a handheld in the past few years.

Developer

Atlus

Publisher

Atlus

Genre

Turn Based RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10 (1 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now    Also on Also on Nintendo eShop

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